Screenwriter Kemp Powers on the "Note of Hope" at the End of 'One Night in Miami'

Photo credit: -
Photo credit: -

From Esquire

In One Night in Miami, the film directed by Regina King and adapted from Kemp Powers's play of the same name, a long evening in a hotel room between four Black men sets the stage for a caustic conversation about how racial politics pervades every part of American life.

The story imagines the discussions which took place when Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown gathered together in a hotel room in Miami after Ali beat Sonny Liston in 1964. The men goad and tease one another as the night unfolds, sometimes challenging each other for not doing enough to help the movement for equality, at other points sweetly praising one another as brothers.

The action may be largely confined to one room, but some of the most thrilling scenes take place when the characters break free of those walls. One of the those occasions comes in the closing moments of the film, when Malcolm X escapes his house after someone throws a flaming bottle through his window, and he rushes onto the street with his family to watch the house burn.

"I’ve always viewed this story as a tragedy, because as great as these men were I couldn’t help but think of how much further they could have gone together if things had gone differently," Powers told Esquire.

Photo credit: Amazon Prime
Photo credit: Amazon Prime

He added: "Malcolm and Sam were both dead less than a year from this night, Sam within a matter of months. Malcolm didn’t live to see the publication of his autobiography which is what opened him up to a lot of people. Sam didn’t live to see the impact of "A Change is Gonna Come". Weeks after this night Malcolm and Ali split and they never spoke to each other again. The tragedy of all that always hung over me."

Powers, who recently co-directed Pixar's Soul, went on to say that though there is darkness in the final moments of the story, in King's reinterpretation of it she allows for some light to shine through. The film closes with Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" playing out, the song which still symbolises the steadfast belief in better days that defined the civil rights movement.

Photo credit: Amazon Prime
Photo credit: Amazon Prime

The final shot sees Malcolm X watching Sam Cooke tear up as he performs on stage: a moment of understanding between the two despite their differences. A quote from Malcolm X reads: "It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That's the only thing that can save this country." Then the film fades to black on the fact of Malcolm X's assassination two days after he said it, a reminder of the immortal power these words have carried ever since.

"The play ends on a very sad note," Powers said. "And what I like about the film is that we ended on much more of a note of hope, because even knowing Malcolm and Sam are going to die, you know they have had a positive effect on generations that have come after."

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